Adam Purple, the activist and environmentalist who was the centerpiece in a city dispute over a blooming oasis on the Lower East Side called the Garden of Eden, died Monday afternoon. He was 84.
According to The Villager, Purple — considered by some to be the godfather of the urban gardening movement — died of an apparent heart attack while cycling over the Williamsburg Bridge to meet a friend in the East Village. (The New York Times has a feature obituary here.)
Purple — born David Wilkie in Independence, Mo. — garnered international attention in the mid-1980s when he battled the city over a five-lot, 15,000-square-foot garden he created amid the ruins of the Lower East Side.
The garden grew from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s. Purple was known to ride his bike (he had renounced the internal combustion engine, among many other modern conveniences) up to Central Park several times a week and return with mounds of manure from hansom cab horses to fertilize the soil.
The garden, between Forsyth Street and Eldridge Street, just south of Stanton Street, was plowed under by the city in 1986 to make way for low- and moderate-income housing. (Plans to build around the garden never materialized.)
Here's the Times with a feature on Purple from February 1998:
"He is the purest example of a hippie ever seen in this city," said Mary Cantwell, the author of 'Manhattan, When I Young,' who met Mr. Purple in 1985. "He is an artifact of that era, living in a very unlikely time and place, namely present-day New York City."
Mr. Purple has been something of a fringe fixture ever since he moved to the city 30 years ago. His appearance and his moniker were striking even in a city known for its eclectic characters and wild sartorial tastes. During much of the 70's and early 80's, he dressed almost entirely in the royal hue: purple shirts, purple sweaters, purple pants. With his beard, gray hair, floppy green stocking cap, sunglasses and twinkling blue eyes, he looks like Santa Claus if Santa hit the skids and lost the belly.
And from the Times in 1999: "He has been called one of New York City's living treasures, an ornery gadfly, a freelance anarchist. He has gone by many names: Hy Patia, Les Ego, John Peter Zenger 2d, P. E. Ricles, General Zen of the Headquarters Intergalactic of Psychic Police Uranus, and even the relatively mundane David Wilkie."
For more background, check out "Adam Purple and The Garden of Eden" by Harvey Wang and Amy Brost from 2011...
In recent years, Purple had been living in Williamsburg, working with Times Up.
As the Times noted in 1998, Purple started wearing little purple — with the exception of a hat.
He put the color away, he said, after the garden was destroyed.
"Purple went out with the garden," he said. "Adam Purple doesn't exist."